Firm Hand

What happens in a Democratic-Republic when the most powerful person has an agenda which seems at odds with the legislative body?

We found out today when Janet Yellen, who is not at all orange, testified before the Senate Banking Committee for the first time since … well, really since all Hell broke loose. Financial issues have largely taken a back seat since the circus came to town and the opportunity to return to such a basic issue had the wonderful air or normality to it.

That didn’t stop anyone from trying to bring in the clowns, of course. But real leaders, like Yellen, know better than to take the bait. It was delightfully boring, as all banking should be. But it still had its moments.

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Dr. Carver

“Anything will give up its secrets if you love it enough.”

In February, it is customary to put up images of Dr. George Washington Carver in our schools as part of Black History Month. Most people see his earnest and humble stare coming from the cheerful posters and think, “Oh, the peanut guy.” But he was much more than that, perhaps even the greatest scientist who ever lived. Black or white.

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National Brand

Around the surprisingly excellent Superbowl we have the usual display of ads. It’s one of the features of the big event – and for some the main event. But what do these over-produced ads usually bring the advertisers who are spending $20M and more for a minute?

Most of them are here to “build the brand,” or improve the image of the company more than actually sell a product. Anyone who has been in marketing for any length of time will roll their eyes at the idea. It’s usually an excuse for the worst excesses of advertising, the small telenovelas which are really money pretty much down the drain. Targeted advertising, driven by “Big Data,” is what really sells products, after all.

Still, branding is an important exercise all around. People are willing to pay more for a product they feel good about – whether that is corporate responsibility, perception of quality, or a connection to a greater good. And brands are more than corporations sometimes – the value of a brand can also come in a tag that says “Made in USA” or any other nation.

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Make America – Great Again?

What will it take to Make America Great Again? A big part of it, at least in terms of the public show, is the creation of manufacturing jobs. Of the four words in MAGA, the top two appear to be “America” and “Make”. It’s a noble effort all around, without a doubt.

But can this be done as a matter of policy? Can we turn back evils like bad trade deals and force the products which are consumed in America to be made in America?

Two stories from the opening daze of the Trump administration demonstrate just how unlikely this effort will be. Indeed, it’s entirely possible to cause more damage than good in many ways.

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50MPG? Banned in the US

How would you like to have a car which gets better than 50 miles per gallon? Such cars exist, and are actually rather common in Europe. Why aren’t they sold here? They are essentially illegal, thanks to some very tight regulation. They are diesels, and as such run in Europe on a fuel which by law includes 15% minimum biofuel, a renewable resource.

But efficient engines like this run at higher temperatures and pressures, meaning they essentially burn a little nitrogen and thus produce more Nitrous Oxide, or NOx.

This is at the heart of the infamous Volkswagen “cheating scandal”, which was indeed a terrible moment. But now that Chevrolet’s small diesels may be guilty of the same thing, it’s worth talking about.

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Screwing It All Up

The news is full of Trumpestuous nonsense. Denials of Russian involvement in our election devolved into a tweetstorm lasting for days, apparently without sleep, causing many to question his mental health and/or drug use. You can read about this nearly anywhere, so consider this the main attraction of the circus.

Away from the noise there is a lot more going on, of course. As we have said here before, the real stories will be away from the nonsense presented front and center. For all of our reasonable worries about his stability and allegiances, Trump poses a far greater danger to our nation.

Where we should reasonably be about to enter a great period of economic activity, it is still entirely possible to screw it up.

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Economy of People

It’s a bizzy return-to-work week, and I don’t know how to say this any better.  This post, from 2013, is presented just as it was because so much of it is relevant.  This was elaborated on at length in my discussion series People’s Economics in 2015, but this is the summary.  I still believe that this is what we should be talking about rather than the nonsense which passes for “politics” today – and that nearly everyone is utterly missing the ability to analyze what is happening around all of us in any useful way.

The economic teachings of Pope Francis are a hot topic. People feel a need to weigh in on what he said whether they understand it or not. But it’s the simple fact that so many don’t understand where this comes from that is probably the most important point in the public debate.

To sum it up: Money should work for people, and not the other way around. That shouldn’t be controversial, but having forgotten this way of looking at things is may be at the heart of economic and social cycles. The simple answer is that it’s time we remembered. More to the point, that philosophy is at the heart of American tradition going back to our earliest days.

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